Franz Beckenbauer Dies at Age 78 – Who Was He & How Good of a Footballer Was He?

German football legend Franz Beckenbauer died on the 8th of January 2024 at the age of 78. For older fans his death marks another member of a magical generation of players that have passed in recent times, along with the likes of Pele and Bobby Charlton. However, younger fans never had the privilege of seeing him play and many will be wondering just how good he was, whilst some may even have very little idea of who he was and what he achieved.

For those that are unsure of what Beckenbauer achieved and whether he deserves to be ranked alongside legends such as Pele, we will detail his many honours. In addition, we will explain his importance to the game as both a player and manager, and also look at what some of his contemporaries have had to say about him.

Who was Franz Beckenbauer?

Franz Beckenbauer wax figureYounger supporters, or those newer to football, may have only heard about the German ace when his death was announced. As such, we’ll start at the very beginning, by stating that he was born in Munich on the 11th of September 1945. He spent part of his youth career and the vast majority of his senior playing days with Bayern Munich and represented his national side, then West Germany, 103 times.

Nicknamed Der Kaiser (the Emperor), he had two brief playing stints in America with New York Cosmos, either side of a short spell with Hamburg. However, it was with Bayern that he made his name, representing Germany’s most famous side between 1964 and 1977, playing almost 600 games. After playing he went into management and took charge of his country first, before a short spell with Marseille and two brief periods with Bayern. After that, he moved into football administration.

Beckenbauer Honours

Der Kaiser won so much as both a player and a coach that we cannot list all of his achievements. However, here are his major highlights across both sides of his career, including both individual awards and those he won with his various teams.

  • Four Bundesliga titles with Bayern Manich and one with Hamburg as a player, plus another with Bayern as manager
  • Three European Cups playing for Bayern Munich
  • European Cup Winners’ Cup as a player with Bayern Munich
  • Managed Bayern Munich to UEFA Cup success
  • World Cup as both player (1974) and manager (1990)
  • European Championship (as a player)
  • Ligue 1 as manager of Marseille
  • Won Ballon d’Or in 1972 and 1976 (also second in 1974 and 1975, and third in 1966)
  • German footballer of the year four times
  • FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in three consecutive World Cups
  • UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament in 1972 and 1976

His CV is clearly incredibly impressive and for a defender to win the Ballon d’Or highlights just what a brilliant player he was. It is very rare for a non-attacker to win this coveted award and Beckenbauer is the only defender or goalie to have won it on more than one occasion. What’s more, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have made the top three on more occasions than the German icon.

In addition, Beckenbauer is one of only three men in history to have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager. The other two are Didier Deschamps (with France) and Brazilian Mario Zagallo, who lifted it twice as a player and sadly died just three days before Beckenbauer.

What is also notable about his career as a player is how many years he spent right at the very top. To make the podium of the Ballon d’Or in 1966 and also 1976 shows how long he was able to perform at the absolute highest level, something very few footballers have managed.

Beckenbauer’s Impact

As well as his incredible achievements as a player and a manager that we can measure in terms of trophies and awards, the Bayern Munich hero changed the way the game was played. Although it is debatable whether or not he truly invented the position of the sweeper, he certainly modernised and popularised it. Initially a striker and occasional left-sided winger, he moved into midfield before settling on the position with which he is most associated.

The three-time European Cup winner was so elegant and graceful, supremely comfortable on the ball, that watching him stride forward, breaking through the lines, was truly a sight to behold. His ability to turn defence into attack, ease on the ball and tactical flexibility and awareness meant he was incredibly hard to play against and there is no doubt modern managers such as Pep Guardiola would have moved heaven and earth to try and sign him.

Contemporaries understood just how good he was too, with Sir Alf Ramsey instructing probably England’s best player, Bobby Charlton, to mark him during the 1966 World Cup final. Given Beckenbauer was just 20 years old at the time, this shows the sort of regard in which he was held. Pele said of the German, “As a player, he was marked out by intelligence rather than strength. He was more Brazilian than German as a footballer.”

Eric Cantona – who knows a thing or two about footballing style and grace – said, “He was a leader of men, a dominant presence who could bring the ball out with grace and skill. But I tell you this: he broke my heart. As an eight-year-old, I watched the 1974 World Cup Final between West Germany and Holland and I was supporting the Dutch. I cried my eyes out when they lost. I was very sad, but now I understand all about the brilliance of the Kaiser.” But for those who question just how good the Kaiser was, we should return to Pele and this quote: “Beckenbauer was one of the best I ever saw play.”